‘Drug lord aided Reyes brods’
Former Palawan Gov. Joel Reyes and his brother, ex-Mayor Mario Reyes of Coron town, managed to stay under the radar for three years with the help of a suspected drug lord in the resort island of Phuket in Thailand, according to a crack team of police investigators tasked to hunt down two of the Philippines’ most wanted fugitives.
But the phone calls they made to their relatives and friends in the Philippines eventually gave their location away, the Task Force Tugis of the Philippine National Police said in its report, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer on Friday.
The Reyes brothers had been on the run since they fled the country in March 2012 following their indictment for the murder of Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega, a community broadcaster and staunch critic of mining in Palawan province.
After several failed attempts to trace their whereabouts, Thai authorities and the International Police (Interpol) finally found and arrested the two on Phuket on Sunday.
“They were believed to be coddled by a certain Mr. Lim, an alleged drug lord in Phuket, Thailand,” the police task force said.
The PNP team said the manhunt for the Reyes brothers was mapped out in a police operation dubbed “Coplan Ayungin” after then Interior Secretary Mar Roxas issued a directive to arrest high-profile fugitives called the “Big Five.”
Besides the Reyes brothers, the Big Five include Globe Asiatique owner Delfin Lee, retired Army Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. and former Dinagat Island Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr.
In August 2012, President Benigno Aquino III approved a cash reward of P2 million for the arrest of each of the fugitives.
In March last year, Lee was arrested by Task Force Tugis agents led by Senior Supt. Conrad Capa in a posh hotel in Manila while Palparan was collared five months later in a house he rented in Santa Mesa district, also in Manila.
Ecleo, the “supreme master” of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association cult who was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing his wife, remains at large. He has also been meted out a 31-year jail term by the Sandiganbayan for graft.
After initially using travel documents under the name Joseph Lim Pe, the task force said, Joel Reyes used a spurious Malaysian passport while Mario Reyes was able to secure a fake Philippine passport using the name Nicholas Lim Gatchalian.
Citing a report from the Thai police, the task force said the Reyeses could have bought their bogus passports from Iranian tourists who trade in stolen travel documents.
Task Force Tugis agents got a major break in their investigation when they were able to trace phone calls to some of the Reyeses’ “close associates” that “originated from Thailand.”
“[On] verification from our Thai counterparts, [the phone calls were] traced [to] Phuket, Thailand, [where the Reyes brothers were] rumored to be hiding… according to some of the fugitives’ business associates in Palawan,” the task force said in its report.
It said the information about the Reyeses’ possible location was further bolstered when Joel’s former security aide and his wife traveled to Bangkok in early 2014.
This prompted the task force agents to fly to Thailand on Aug. 25, 2014, to coordinate with their counterparts in the Royal Thai police and the Interpol.
They also discussed the Ortega murder case with the Thai police and immigration officials.
According to the task force, Thai police officer Lt. Col Monchai Malai and Lt. Col. Chai Sanguansin of the Thai-Interpol formed a surveillance team to help track down the Reyes brothers.
It said Maj. Gen. Apichat Suriboonya, Thai-Interpol head, also approved a manhunt for the Reyeses called “Operation Jeepney,” which was headed by Col. Kisana Patanacharuen and Sanguansin.
Records from the Thai immigration office showed that Joel and Mario Reyes arrived in Bangkok on April 16, 2012, on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH790. They were allowed to stay in Thailand for 30 days.
Before slipping out of the Philippines, the Reyeses tried to evade arrest by hopping from one island to another in Coron and Puerto Princesa City using a white catamaran, which was last seen docked at a beachfront property owned by Joel on Turtle Bay, Puerto Princesa, the task force said.
Accompanied by lawyer Hermie Aban, the task force said, the Reyeses, using fake passports and assisted by corrupt immigration officials, were able to fly to Vietnam on March 18, 2012.
The task force said the brothers then traveled to Bangkok a few months later before they settled in Rawai in Phuket’s Muang district.
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